Japan Self-Drive Itinerary (December 2015 Pt 2) – Driving the Golden Route (Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka)

Japan Self-Drive Itinerary - The Golden Route -Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka - Tips and Itinerary by Bumble Bee Mum

What is the Golden Route?


Most first-time visitors to Japan start with a visit along Japan’s Golden Route.  It is the route from Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka, covering 3 of Japan’s most famous cities, and passing by the iconic Mount Fuji along the way. This route is most commonly covered by travellers using the bullet train (shinkansen). I have done the Golden Route by shinkansen twice using the Japan Rail Pass in May 2004 and December 2007.  But now with the kids around, I decided to try driving the route instead.  Both for convenience and for the experience.

Is it cheaper to drive or use shinkansen for the Golden Route?

I didn’t calculate the exact cost of driving.  But my general feel was that if you have more than 3 adults in the group, driving will probably be cheaper than taking the shinkansen.  With 3 adults, I would think it’s about the same.  But like I said, it is just a feel, I didn’t do any exact calculations, but below is a very rough estimate:

The bulk of the cost of driving will come from car rental and toll fees.  So roughly:

  • 1 week car rental for a 5 seater sedan from Haneda Airport = 50,000 yen
  • One way toll fee from Haneda Airport to Osaka = 15,000 yen

Total cost for car rental + 2 ways toll fees = 80,000 yen approximately

We compare that to the cost of a 7-day Japan Rail Pass for 3 adults: 29,110 x 3 = 87330 yen.

Can you see why I think the cost will probably be the same if you have 3 adults, if you factor in petrol and parking?

But of course, driving is much slower than shinkansen.  I would say you would need at least 3 days (2 nights rest in between) to complete the one-way drive from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka comfortably.  So realistically, you should spend more than 7 days to do a proper Golden Route tour via self-drive.

Tip on saving on toll fees

Should you decide to drive, one of the best tip I can share to save money on toll fee is to get an ETC card and cover as much distance on the expressways on a weekend as possible. We noticed that the ETC card gave us discount on toll fees on weekends.

Recommended Stops Along the Golden Route


Like I mentioned, you definitely need to make stops between Tokyo to Kyoto.  A direct drive from Tokyo (Haneda Airport) to Kyoto is almost 500 km.  Some places I recommend spending a night to break up the drive are:

If you are doing a return trip via the same route, you can divide the stops up for the West bound and East bound journey.

Stops along the Expressway

There are several PA (parking area) and SA (service area) to take a break at along the expressways.  While we took several stops at random PA or SA along the way when someone needed to use the toilet or I needed to replenish the caffeine in my blood, most were forgettable except for three: SA Fujikawa 富士川, PA Kakegawa 掛川 and SA Tsuchiyama 土山.

Note that there are two parallel expressways between Gotemba and Hamamatsu: Shin Tomei Expressway and Tomei Expressway.  SA Fujikawa was located along Tomei Expressway while PA Kakegawa was located along Shin Tomei Expressway.  These two expressways will merge to Higashi-Meihan Expressway.  And from Higashi-Meihan Expressway, you need to switch to Shin-Meishin Expressway to go to Kyoto.  SA Tsuchiyama was located along Shin-Meishin Expressway.

SA Fujikawa 富士川

SA Fujikawa offered a stunning unobstructed view of Mount Fuji.  We were very lucky to be there on a cloudless day, and the momiji trees there offered a picture perfect opportunity during our drive in late Autumn.


Better yet, there was a STARBUCKS there.  On the nice clear day we were there, many locals were just sitting on the terrace with a Starbucks in hand while enjoying the view of their beloved Fujisan.


Note that the above is based on my visit of SA Fujikawa in the Tokyo to Nagoya (West-bound) direction.  I did not visit the service area in the East-bound direction and I’m not sure what it’s like on the other side.

PA Kakegawa 掛川

PA Kakegawa was bustling with people when we were there around lunch time.  There was a food court there with plenty of food options, including Yoshinoya.  There was also a convenience store and souvenir store.  The food court and convenience store were open 24 hours.


Again, the above information is for the service area in the West-bound direction.

SA Tsuchiyama 土山

There was a festive mood at SA Tsuchiyama, with food stalls lining the parking area.


Inside the complex, you can find a food court, restaurant, convenience store and souvenir store.


Both East-bound and West-bound traffic share the above facilities at SA Tsuchiyama.

Our Itinerary

Day 4: Tokyo – Yokohama – Gotemba

We left Tokyo in the morning and drove first to Zoorasia at Yokohama.


Zoorasia is one of Japan’s newest zoo with very reasonable entrance fees. It cost 600 yen per adult and our children below elementary school age could enter for free. Parking was also free.


Zoorasia was located mid-way between Tokyo and Gotemba / Hakone.  So if you are doing a self-drive trip from Tokyo to Gotemba / Hakone and looking for a kids-friendly place to break up the drive, I recommend Zoorasia.


From Zoorasia, we drove to our next accommodation, Toki no Sumika at Gotemba.  The most direct route from Yokohama to Gotemba was to use the expressway all the way.  But we opted to exit the expressway earlier and drive through Hakone.   I have special feelings for Hakone, which you can read more about in our 2008 trip and 2013 trip.  To get to Gotemba, we drove through the Ashinoko Skyline, a scenic toll road which cost 600 yen per car.


With good weather and a clear view of Mount Fuji, the drive was worth every cent of the 600 yen toll fee and extra time taken.  If you are doing this drive, I suggest you play by ear – if the weather is bad, just stick to the expressway which is much faster. We were there at sunset and many travellers were gathered at the panoramic view point armed with their cameras to capture the sunset and Mount Fuji.


The rest of the drive from Ashinoko to Gotemba was pitch dark, so we drove slow and arrived safe and sound in the evening. After checking in, we went around for the illumination event at Toki no Sumika.


Our accommodation for the night was one of the little huts at Slow House Villa.


We booked their kuma (bear) room – which was quite an amusing experience for the kids who got cozy with the giant teddy bear.


Day 5: Gotemba – Hamamatsu – Nagashima Onsen (Nagoya)

We had originally planned to do the drive from Gotemba to Nagashima Onsen (near Nagoya) over 2 days, spending 1 night at Kakegawa.  However, we found out that Day 6 of our travel was the last day for autumn night visit to Kiyomizudera at Kyoto, so we rushed this drive to arrive at Kyoto on Day 6.

Since we were rushing for time, we did not plan sightseeing stops and only made stops along the expressway, in particular SA Fujikawa and PA Kakegawa, as mentioned at the start of the post.


We arrived at our only sightseeing destination, Hamamatsu Fruit Park, at mid-day.


The kids had so much fun at Hamamatsu Fruit Park that they refused to leave until we dragged them off at 4pm as it was getting dark.


What we didn’t anticipate was the MAJOR traffic jam to get to our next destination: Nabana No Sato – which hosted one of Japan’s largest illumination event.  I should have known better – it was a Saturday and even on weekdays, there were usually traffic jams and parking problems whenever we  visited major events in Japan.


After we finally got through the awful jam and got our tickets to the event, we still had to eat dinner.  Which left us little time to explore the huge illumination event.


The illumination at Nabana No Sato was nothing short of spectacular. The combination of illuminated autumn foliage and Christmas lighting showcased the best of two seasons in Japan.  I only regretted not dragging the kids out of Hamamatsu Fruit Park earlier.


We were at the illumination all the way until their closing time at 10pm. We spent the night at Hotel Sunroute Yokkaichi.  The next morning, we continued our drive to Kyoto, stopping briefly once at SA Tsuchiyama for toilet break.


Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes

Below are links of official websites and telephone number / map codes (for GPS) of destinations in this post:

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[Blogged] It's time again for Travel Tuesday! Come share your travel tales and wanderlust and say Hi to fellow travel lovers in our weekly blog hop: http://bumblebeemum.net/tag/travel-tuesday/ (Link to this week's link-up in profile.) In our post this week, we share some tips and our itinerary for driving The Golden Route in Japan. #bumblebeemumblog #bumblebeemumtravels #bumblebeemuminjapan #travelblog #travelblogger #bloghop #sgparentblogger #sgparentbloggers #sgmombloggers #sgmumbloggers #mondayescapes #traveltuesday #wednesdaywanderlust #travelthursday #airhead #airheadsflock #instatravel #instapassport #japan #japantrip #japantravel #gotemba #tokinosumika #thelittleprince #littleprince #lepetitprince #illumination #イルミネーション #御殿場

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  • Lydia C. Lee says:

    That place with the lights and the giant teddy looks like fun!!!

  • letmebefree says:

    Sounds like a great trip.

  • Ai Sakura says:

    Hamamatsu Fruit Park is so adorable!! It’s famous to me for only one thing.. eels!! hahahah… I miss eating unagi hone senbei. I haven’t been able to find it outside of Hamamatsu!

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Wah…. Really ah. We didn’t explore Hamamatsu much. We just stopped by the Fruits Park to let the kids run around as a break from the long drive. If I’m in Hamamatsu again, I shall remember to look for this Unagi you talked about!

  • Fuyoh… the more I read your travelogues, the more I want to go and visit Japan!!! The bear in the kuma room is so huge and cute too 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I found it nice and cuddly because the kuma room was recently introduced. But I’m not sure I want to cuddle it 1 year down the road.. :p But then again, this is Japan, so maybe they clean and disinfect the bear regularly?

  • Waiwai says:

    What an awesome view of Mt. Fuji! I haven’t tried self-driving in Japan before, have been taking public transportation, hope to try self-driving at least once!

  • Lady J says:

    Oh wow! I love your pictures and your self-drive trip looks amazing!! Love the accomodation at Slow House Villa too! We often go to Japan but usually get round via Shinkasen, going to share this with the Hub and recommend a road trip now! Hehe..

  • Phoebe says:

    Always feel very tempted whenever I read your Japan trip post.. Really wish to go there someday and I will surely be reading back your blog post again then.

  • This is very informative! We always prefer to rent a car whenever we travel as it gives us so much freedom when we do so. I’m definitely going to bookmark this for when we finally visit Japan. 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, I love the freedom of driving. Though few people would think of driving in Japan due to the language barrier and right-hand drive. For the same reasons, I’m not sure I would dare to drive in Europe. :p

  • MissusTay says:

    oh wow, this is such a comprehensive guide! the pictures are gorgeous too. bookmarking your blog to read when we plan for Japan, whenever that’s happening! 🙂

  • Angie.S says:

    I love this post SOOOO MUCH! That view of Mt Fuji and the illumination – makes the self-drive worthwhile! I want to try self-drive in Japan too, but worried about the language barrier. Would get more tips from you in future!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Get an English GPS and you should be fine. I love the Japanese GPS because you input destinations by telephone numbers or map codes, so it’s super easy for foreigners who do not know Japanese.

  • Looks like an amazing trip!

  • Indrani says:

    Very well planned interesting trip.
    Loved the room setups. Great pics.
    Happy TT!

  • Ruth says:

    Of course I have heard about this route but I didn’t know it was called Golden Route. I found a new travel booking company and I was looking at prices for this route (by train). It will be great to drive but I think I will use the train on a first trip to Japan. You have to make a post on what to eat at each of the cities ;0)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Haha… When I was in Hokkaido I made lists of the yummiest foods I had there! You can see them on my Japan travel page. This part of the trip wasn’t very exciting in terms of food, but later on when we hit the seaside markets you will see what we ate! :p

  • Mummy Ed says:

    How cute is that bear room?? Was it dusty though? *the things people with rhinitis ask*

    • bumblebeemum says:

      When I saw the bear, I was also thinking about the dust. But the bear room was a new addition when we were there, so we didn’t have a problem with dust. Can’t guarantee what will happen a few months or years down the road. :p

      Anyway the resort (Toki No Sumika) is a pretty old resort, so all the rooms are kind of dated. Then again, you probably know that I always stay in resorts that are kind of old coz they are cheaper.

  • so neat, I have never thought about driving that route, I knew that the tolls were quite pricey. I just booked for the girls and I to go to Osaka for spring break 🙂

  • Melanie says:

    Love this!! Found you through the Wanderlust Wednesday Link Up! Self driven tours are my FAVE and in Japan?! Sign me up! That fruit playground was awesome!! I wish we had playgrounds like that in the states!!

    I also have a Travel Tuesday Link Up if you were interested in joining! It’s the 2nd Tuesday of each month. It is my first one, but I am excited to see where others have been traveling! http://www.lifessweetwords.com/2016/01/our-georgia-adventure-part-1-savannah.html

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, nice to meet another self drive fan!

      I’ve linked up on TT.. 2nd Tuesday of each month.. Hope I remember to go in next month! If I forget, do pop by to remind me.. :p

  • This looks like quite the road trip!! The kuma room is amazing!! So cute! I’d like to stay there 😀

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Haha.. Really? I would have preferred to stay in the Little Prince Room if I weren’t with the kids. Oh, I didn’t mention they had Little Prince Rooms and Peter Rabbit rooms.

  • The Bear Room is so awesome! I’ve said this before, but your kids are so lucky to have gone on so many amazing adventures.

  • Rachael says:

    Wow! What a great drive! The fact that I drive everywhere here on Okinawa means I am definitely more brave to try a driving trip on the mainland. The views you got of Fuji are amazing

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, you should have no problems driving on mainland. I found the drivers on Okinawa much more aggressive than the ones on mainland. The mainland drivers were extremely patient and polite on the roads.

      Hehe.. Not that I want to brag but I think I have Mount Fuji loves me. :p

  • Angel Than says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,

    We will be heading to Tokyo with our 3.5yo and 1yo in Jan 2017.

    Here are places that we want to go
    – Nassin Noodle Museum
    – Mt Fuji/Hakone region
    – Disneyland and Disneysea (wonder if it will be too much for the kids and if they will enjoy both parks?)
    – Mother Farm (will it be advice to drive from Tokyo Bay there or from central Tokyo)
    – Imperial Park (for some picnic and running around)
    – fish market (for some sushi)
    – temple to ask for blessing

    We have about 9 days when we take a red eye flight and touch down on 10 Jan and night flight out on 19 Jan at about 8pm. I would like to pace the trip slower so the kids will enjoy.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      This is what I would recommend:

      10 Jan: Central Tokyo (Don’t plan much after a red eye flight. Just relax around the hotel and go back to the room to sleep if necessary.)
      11 Jan: Central Tokyo (Fish Market, Imperial Park, Asakusa temple)
      12 Jan: Central Tokyo (Drive to Mother Farm)
      13 Jan: Central Tokyo (day trip to Tokyo Disneyland)
      14 Jan: Central Tokyo (day trip to Yokohama. Nissin Noodle Museum is at Yokohama)
      15 Jan: Tokyo – Hakone / Mount Fuji
      16 Jan: Hakone / Mount Fuji
      17 Jan: Hakone / Mount Fuji – Airport

    • Emma says:

      Message for Angel Than: pretty sure Tsukiji fish market is closing this November and moving to newer (and less interesting?) premises. Still in Tokyo but not sure what it will be called when it moves to Odaiba.

  • Elle says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    We want to do a road trip with our 2 children. Thinking of a one way trip from Osaka to Tokyo. With hakone and mt Fuji area along the way. Initially I was thinking of taking the public transportation at the start and end of our trip in the major cities. Then drive in the middle portion. But the train system looks so confusing and also problem of where to pick/drop the car. Do you think it’s easier/possible to drive the entire trip? Or any other recommendations pls? Thk q!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It’s possible to drive the entire trip, it is also possible to do a mixture of rail + drive. Really depends on how much time you have and how willing you are to move around with the kids and luggage. We chose to drive all the way because we didn’t want to keep moving our luggage around the train stations with the kids, plus our boys nap better in the car compared to on trains. However, driving is slower than train. In short, if you have limited time and want to get from city to city fast, train (specially bullet trains) are the way to go. But if you don’t want the hassle of figuring out train platforms and dragging kids + luggage around, and you have the time to spare, then drive.

  • Jo says:

    Hi bumblebee mom:
    My name is Jo – I have read your Japan travel blog. I need some advice from you since I will be going to Japan (1st time) in November. I bought my 7 day Japan Rail Pass but will be there for 10 days. I m flying into Osaka and going to Kyoto. What train shall I take? I will be staying 4 Days in Kyoto b4 proceeding to Lake Kawaguichiko and staying there for 2 nights. Then on to Tokyo for 3 nights b4 leaving for Malaysia. I would appreciate any tips u can give me since u have been to Japan over a dozen times. You must know that country like the back of your hand. Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Do you mean you want to go from Kansai Airport to Kyoto? If that’s the case, you should take the LTD. EXP HARUKA. It is a direct train from Kansai Airport to Kyoto station.

      Kawaguchiko is a bit of a hassle to get to by rail. Usually when I visit Hakone / Fuji Five Lakes region, I would take the train till Odawara station and rent a car from there to explore the region. There is direct shinkansen between Kyoto and Odawara and also between Odawara and Tokyo.

      If you need to check any train routes, you can use Hyperdia:

  • MayC says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mom,

    Went through all of your Japan travel blogs, really helpful. Thanks!

    We are half way planning our trip for mid December for family of 4adults.
    seeking for your advice whether to rent a car from Tokyo to Kyoto? With few stopovers – Hakone, Kawaguchi and Kakegawa.
    We considered to buy hakone fuji pass and from kawaguchi will drive to Kyoto and drop the car there.
    Seems there are too many places to cover around Fuji, will it be more ideally to take local bus or self drive?
    Hope to hear from u soon. Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Are you planning to do a one-way drive or two-ways? One-way rentals come with pretty hefty drop-off fees. If you factor in drop-off fee and toll fees, it may not be that economical to drive – but it offers a lot of convenience if you are planning to visit many destinations that are hard to reach by train along the way.

      For Hakone / Kawaguchiko area, I definitely think self-driving is the best way to explore the region. The local bus is kind of slow. The first time I visited Hakone using the Hakone free pass, we wasted so much time waiting for buses. Next day, we rented a car and since then, I have always driven when in Hakone.

      If you are going to drive to Kyoto, I would recommend you also plan a stop at Nabana No Sato to make better use of your car:

      And there is a new attraction near Hakone called the Mishima Sky Walk. I’ve never been there coz it only opened after we left. You should totally visit it if you have a car (coz it’s not accessible by train) and if the weather is good. If you do go, come back and tell me how it is! 😉

  • Susan Galvin says:

    Excellent photography! Like them most of all.
    Thank you Bumblebeemum.

  • Jimmy says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Love all your posts on your numerous Japan trips.

    I booked a trip to Japan in April 2017 with my wife and 2 kids (6 months and 4 years old). Initially plan to stay 1 night in Hakone and get the Hakone Free Pass but after reading your posts, I’m now thinking to rent a car and probably stay 2 nights to visit Kawaguchiko Five Lake area and Toki no Sumiko instead (you are really an Influencer)

    Need your expert advice. Assuming arrive at Odawara in the afternoon (from Kyoto):-
    Day 1 – Drive to Togendai for the round trip private ship (which route to take? Route 732 + 75 round lake Ashi or Route 138+75 passing Gora) Still undecided on the Ropeway as I heard the sulfur gas might not be suitable for newborn. Drive to Fujisan and overnight
    Day 2 – Drive to Kachikachi Ropeway – Gotemba – Toki no Sumiko (will there be enough time for Fuji Safari Park? seem a bit out of the way)
    Day 3 – Drive to Ashinoko Skyline through Route 337? (how long does it take to cover this 10km toll road, with photostops of course) – detour to Mishimi Skywalk (if enough time before returning car at Odawara)

    Also, what happened if you return the car later then the schedule time?

    Many thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 1:

      From Odawara to Togendai, the route I usually use is this one (Route 138 + 75):

      BUT, if you are travelling in April, it may be peak period due to cherry blossom / Fuji Shibazakura Festival (be sure to visit this if your date coincides! I never wrote about it coz i never had the opportunity to visit Japan in Spring). Route 138 + 75 is the main sightseeing route in Hakone, so during peak tourist season it will probably be congested. I *SUSPECT* route 732 + 75 may have less traffic. Maybe if you have internet access when you’re there, you can search Google map to see which route is faster based on traffic conditions at that time.

      As for the sulphur, you can take the ropeway but don’t hang around Owakudani for long. Just take the ropeway there and back. If the sky is clear, the view of Mount Fuji from the ropeway is totally awesome.

      Day 2:

      What are you planning to do at Gotemba? If you are just doing Kachi Kachi Ropeway in the morning then heading to Toki No Sumika after that, I think you should have time to fit in Fuji Safari Park in between. But if you want to do some shopping at Gotemba Premium Outlet, then probably there won’t be enough time for the safari park.

      Day 3:

      I think driving the Ashinoko Skyline with photostops would take an hour max?

      If you return the car later than scheduled, they will charge you for overtime.

      • Jimmy says:

        Dear BBM,

        Merry Christmas to you and your family.

        I really salute you and thank you for replying to my query. (how do you find time to reply to all the comments and maintain your blog with 2 kids in tow ;))

        Thank you for the suggestion to search Google Map for route condition on the day itself (will be renting a Portable WIFI from ChangiRecommend. They are having a promo right now at $5/day. Have you try them before or is it better to get a Japan sim-card? Any comment?)

        The Fuji Shibazakura Festival looks awesome. Unfortunately we would not be able to make it (based on 2016 calendar they start mid-April).

        I have made reservation for the rental car at Nippon Car Rental and hotel near Fujisan station on Day 1. (Can’t make the reservation for Tokinosumika yet as they only open for April 2017 reservation on 1 Jan 2017. But I’m impress by their prompt response to my query).

        We are not big on shopping, so will probably do a brief stopover at Gotemba Premium outlet (or totally skip it) and head for Fuji Safari Park or Grinpa

        Will update you on the Mishima Skywalk (if we manage to visit it).

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I have never tried a Japanese SIM card but I have tried the portable WIFI from Changi Recommends. I used the portable WIFI in Hokkaido though, not mainland Japan. But from what I’ve read, the portable WIFI should work fine in cities but you may lose connection in the rural areas. Anyway the GPS in Japan generally works great in rural areas, so as long as you have the telephone number / map code of the places you want to visit, you should be fine even without internet.

  • HC says:

    Hi there,

    Doing some research about whether self drive or Shinkansen is better for tokyo to mt Fuji area then to Kyoto and stumbled upon your blog 🙂
    Self drive seems great !
    Is parking expensive at Hakone, kawaguchi and Kyoto?

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